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Contest Marketing-savvy companies trapped by the limitations of reality have found a new vehicle for their propaganda - the vacuous world of Second Life.

Both Sun Microsystems and IBM held events this week in Second Life's make believe planet. Sun hawked its video game vision to lonely creatures, while IBM allowed fake versions of its alumni to mingle online.

Second Life, for those of you who have been spared its inanity, is a video game full of fake cities, shops and people. It's the type of place where people who have sex with dolls in real life can have sex with avatars in fake life. And, oh my, what forms these avatars can take.

The Guardian vomited out about 15,000 enlightening words on Second Life this weekend.

The piece opened with the reporter declaring, "I am pole dancing for $18 in a sleazy club and I've never felt so alive! I've got pecs to die for, a lady-pleaser of a beard and an aura of sexual ambiguity!"

Later, it added, "You can change gender, be more talkative, or less, or you can have sex (I'm not yet certain how) of the kind you wouldn't dare experience in real life."

But more to our point, the Guardian propaganda piece had one Second Lifer noting, "My weirdest moment in SL was seeing Darth Vader fighting with a giant penis", and another declaring, "I work in a daycare centre for children, in Texas. My avatar is a big yellow triceratops: I am a 'furry' - and I found out about Second Life via a furry zine. My Second Life feels more real than my real life; it's the one where I feel pain."

And so we started wondering what forms virtual press conferences from the likes of Sun and IBM will take now that they're deciding to cater to hapless furries who only feel pain while in the guise of a triceratops or throbbing member.

CNET's Daniel Terdiman dove right into this query with an uncritical eye and tenuous grasp of the truth.

He wrote that Sun this week used Second Life "to announce its 'Project Darkstar.'" That's sort of true if you accept that Sun did not "announce" the project for the first time but rather for about the 50th time, including once in a CNET article from March.

Loosely, Project Darkstar is Sun's daunting code-name for a line of gaming servers and software it has built and hopes to sell. Sun argues that it's smarter for smaller game developers to turn to its sturdy hardware rather than trying to build their own data centers. To Sun's point, few outfits can afford to fire up data centers capable of letting millions of users worldwide play an online game at the same time. We've got more on Darkstar here.

Sun shoved its distinguished chief researcher John Gage and Chief Gaming Officer Chris Melissinos into the Second Life world for a "virtual" press conference touting Darkstar. The company has joined IBM and others by buying virtual property to host such events.

Apparently, the reporters and onlookers were all well-behaved. We've yet to encounter a story about Gage being molested mid-conference by a vagina or a lion with a peanut butter complex. But wouldn't that be fantastic.

**Contest alert: Please submit your takes on what The Register's Second Life avatar should look like, and what our special place should be. We're thinking S&M parlor, but it's up to you. Winner gets a shirt or mug. [Graphics preferred]**

Terdiman invited Melissinos to CNET's own Second Life chamber for an interview. At one point he queryed Sun on whether it has an actual business relationship in place with Linden Lab, the maker of Second Life. "Let's just say that we know the fine folks over at Linden Lab and are talking to them," Melissinos said. "I think a partnership between the two companies would make a lot of sense."

As usual, Sun fluffed around instead of giving a real answer as to whether or not Linden Lab will move to Sun's gaming computing grid.

So, there you have it. Even in a fake world with honey-soaked donkeys mating shy garbage cans, vendors refuse to say much of anything.

Isn't it the case that a marketing Second Life is redundant? The world of public relations already attempts to massage reality in any way possible and folks like Terdiman – who used to be in PR and lists Linden Lab's CEO as a reference on his resume – gladly help out by taking on the reporter's avatar. You'd think PR firms and vendors would shy away from adding a layer of clunky software onto their well-greased propaganda machines. ®

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